Voices From 1918: Texans Remember The Flu Pandemic

In the 1980s, Baylor University recorded the memories of Texans who survived the influenza epidemic that took millions of lives, 100 years ago.

By Joy DiazMarch 22, 2021 6:59 am, , ,

Just over 100 years ago, the Flu Pandemic of 1918 killed more people than World War 1. It is believed that 50 million people worldwide died and a about one-third of the entire world population was infected.

In the 1980’s, Baylor University recorded the stories of Texans who survived that pandemic. Their stories, in some ways, are similar to ours today.

Various newspapers in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., in 1918.

“Well, we moved to a place…it’s in the Heights. People who know Houston know the Heights. And that was during the year that so many people passed away with the flu. And I remember my older brother Louis… was the only one who didn’t get sick. So, he’d try to fix something for us for breakfast or he’d try to fix something for supper. We were not interested whatsoever [in eating]. They didn’t have a doctor there so you just had to do what you thought you could.”

– Wilma Buntin, Houston

Spectators at a Georgia Tech football game, during the 1918 flu pandemic.

“I had often thought that the Lord in his providence kept me from getting the flu. People asked me how I avoided it because people just dropped dead all around from that Adriatic flu – you know? But I was so needed (I thought) I had my father with me, and I was teaching in Maypearl, Texas. But I often just thought it must’ve been a providential thing because I don’t know what could’ve happened if I had had the flu. I had my father, an invalid [sic] and living in that little apartment there. And I remember when I was asked and I said: “oh, well, all I can attribute it is to eating onions and staying happy.” And I did make an effort to stay happy.”

– Martha Emmons, Maypearl, Texas

“When we moved to San Antonio, I started school. In just a few days, they had a flu epidemic…and they turned the schools out. That was during World War One in 1918. And we stayed out for quite a while. They were trying to teach me how to work and they let me shine shoes at the I&GNs station. The main train they had was Sunshine Special. I shined shoes there [until] I finally bought a red cap so I was able to make a few dimes helping the people with their luggage. I was an 11-year-old boy. And then school started again, and it went on for a couple of weeks and then turned out again. We didn’t get much schooling before Christmas.

– Louie Mayberry, San Antonio

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